Tag Archives: MLB

MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Opening Day in Time of COVID-19 is Deja Vu All Over Again

This week marks the Opening of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) Season.

Normally, MLB Opening week would feature me wearing my finest Tampa Bay Rays gear as I welcome the possibly of all that is to come over the six-month plus season.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continued presence of COVID-19, in the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again” as teams are canceling games and league officials are acting like they can wish away a global health pandemic merely by declaring themselves open for business and welcoming fans and their wallets with open arms.

In a perfect world the start of the 2021 MLB season would be cause for celebration as I cheer the Tampa Bay Rays on as they defend their American League Championship Crown. Unfortunately, thanks to the continued nagging presence of COIVD-19, that level of excitement is tempered by the fact that once again baseball is being played in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Last year, the Miami Marlins became the victims of an early season COVID-19 outbreak that caused them to cancel games.

This year, that honor falls to the Washington Nationals who saw their opening series get cancelled due to COVBID-19 outbreaks in the clubhouse.

To paraphrase Alanis Morrisette, it is somewhat ironic, don’t you think, I mean a little too ironic, I really do think, that a year after Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the opening day pitch for the Nationals that they would have a COVID-19 outbreak. Didn’t they listen when Dr. Fauci told them to wear masks and social distance to avoid spreading the virus?

A year after welcoming Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the first pitch, the Washington Nationals are stating the 2021 MLB season on the sidelines after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of their opening series.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein lies the rub, while the COVID-19 situation is improving this year compared to where things stood last year thanks to vaccines and other factors, numerous health officials are continuing to caution and urge continued vigilance in fighting the virus.

Despite these ongoing warnings from health officials, many state leaders have declared the virus over and are opening things wide open.

Case in point, the Lone Star State of Texas. After the Texas governor removed all remaining restrictions on masks, venue capacity, and other measures, the Texas Rangers are set to open to full capacity for their games. Other teams are welcoming fans back at various capacity levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to go to the Ballpark and watch some baseball. However, I am not going to be so selfish while people are still dying from a virus that can be mitigated through mask wearing and social distancing.

With capacity restrictions in Texas lifted by the governor, the Texas Rangers seem to have declared “Mission Accomplished” against COVID-19 has they became the only MLB team to open their Ballpark to full capacity for the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

I am also not so arrogant as to think that just saying something really loudly makes it true. I mean if one could just wish away inconvenient things, I would have declared victory over my statistics class in grad school instead of struggling every week with hours of homework on formulas I will likely never use again.

As I have said many times before, the selfish desire to see live sports in person is likely allowing the virus to spread. At the very least, it is horrible optics for leagues and teams to welcome fans back when all public health officials are urging us to restrain from gatherings for just a little bit longer.

Other countries have sports, and their fans would likely love to be seeing games in person as well. But for the most part, one does not see the same type of thumbing of noses at public health policy in other countries as one sees in the United States of America.

I am sure that many people in those countries around the world find it quite peculiar that a country with “united” in its name could be so divided when it comes to caring about others before themselves.

In addition to MLB Opening Week, this is also Easter weekend. For those who believe in the biblical account of Easter, versus only following the furry egg giving rabbit side of Easter, the season is a time to remember an ultimate sacrifice made in order to save others.

It is telling therefore that a country founded in part on those beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.

It is telling that a country founded in part on beliefs from the biblical account of Easter would appear to miss the mark when it comes to looking out for others and being unselfish. It is even more telling when one considers that many of the people who claim to be verdant evangelical followers of the biblical teachings are the ones so opposed to mask wearing and looking out for those around them.
Photo R. Anderson

When lock down restrictions were being rolled out in the early part of the virus response in 2020 many churches were the most vocal about feeling that their right of assembly was being taken away from them.

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker in the pre-meme days that asked What Would Jesus Do? I am just spit balling here but I am pretty sure that Jesus would not hold large indoor gatherings of mask-less people in the middle of a pandemic.

I cringe each time I see someone who identifies as Christian on the news decrying how masks infringe on their freedoms. I also still shake my head at trying to figure out how the Second Amendment gets thrown into the discussions on masks.

Can one really call themselves a Christian and be anti-mask and ignore science and common sense? Isn’t that the same thing as trying to be a fan of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at the same time? The two beliefs are simply incompatible.

One cannot believe the Bible and be anti-mask anymore then they can cheer the Bronx Bombers while singing Sweet Caroline. One cannot follow the biblical teachings that say do unto others, while refusing to wear a mask that health officials say protects those around us.

It certainly should give people something to reflect upon during this Easter season.

Speaking of reflection, for years baseball has been called the National Pastime. As such, I get that people want to be taken out to the ballgame for a few hours of entertainment. Lord knows I would love to see the sights and sounds of a Ballpark. It has been nearly two years since I last saw a baseball game in person.

I had hoped when my plans to travel to Spring Training in 2020 were cancelled that I would make up for it in 2021 but this was not the year to do that.

If everyone does their part and gets vaccinated when their turn comes, things will return to normal. If that occurs, hopefully by 2022 I will be enjoying Spring Training baseball once more.

However, if people continue to prematurely declare “mission accomplished” and ignore the science we will continue to have virus hot spots pop up and will never truly be able to return to normal.

Easter and MLB Opening Week are both time for reflection for believers of the biblical account, as well as for those who like Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy believe in the Church of Baseball.

Whatever one believes in terms of religion, or who they follow in terms of a baseball team, when it comes to COVID-19 we should have all been one unified front against a common enemy since day one. Instead of unity over a year later we are still a house divided and made up of warring factions convinced that their beliefs are the only true beliefs.

There will come a time when historians will look back at this COVID-19 era and provide a postmortem on what went wrong and what was done right. Now is the time to do more right to send COVID-19 away for good.

If we don’t it will continue to be that pesky thing that continues to get under our skin and causes problems, kind of like that annoying drunk person who always seems to find me at the Ballpark no matter where I am sitting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball themed Easter eggs to hide.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Astros Making Sugar Land Skeeters a Farm Club Proves Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school, I memorized the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment. In the years since, I have often referred back to that poem during times when things I considered golden in my life became tarnished, or lost some shine.

Such was the case when I learned that the Houston Astros were nearing a deal to make the Sugar Land Skeeters their AAA farm team. As part of the deal, the Astros will own all or part of the Skeeters.

On the surface the idea that the Sugar Land Skeeters are leaving independent baseball and becoming an affiliated team should be good news. But when one digs deeper, they realize that all of the things that made the Skeeters appealing could be taken away as part of the larger effort to give Major League Baseball absolute control of the Minor Leagues.

As part of a massive realignment of Minor League Baseball the Sugar Land Skeeters are slated to go from an independent team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the AAA Affiliate of the Houston Astros starting in the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire for the Astros to keep their AAA team close to the big-league club follows a trend other clubs have followed over the past decade or so.

In fact, in 2013 when the Astros AAA club was based in Oklahoma City there were rumblings that the Astros wanted to relocate a team to the Woodlands, north of Houston to “expand the brand” and “counter moves made by the Texas Rangers,” according to Astros officials at the time.

Fast forward seven years and buying into the ownership of an existing team with a Ballpark is certainly easier than building one from scratch. The Skeeters would join the Astros owned AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks as Texas based feeder teams.

The Texas Rangers will likely move their AAA team back to Round Rock, which the Astros are vacating to move to Sugar Land. In the event that the Rangers move back to Round Rock they would join the Astros in having their AA and AAA teams located within the Lone Star State since the Rangers AA farm club is the Frisco Rough Riders.

I have written extensively this year about how I went from a supporter of the Astros to a former fan who wants nothing to do with them as a result of their trash can cheating scandal. But, if any of the other 29 MLB teams were buying into the Skeeters, I would be equally sad.

To be absolutely clear, although I despise what the Astros organization represents based in part on the lack of sincerity in their apologies for the cheating scandal, I would be sad at the thought of the Skeeters changing from independent to affiliated ball regardless of what team they were affiliated with. The fact that it is the Astros just makes it hurt a bit more.

With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, I have been a fixture at Skeeters games since the team arose out of the former sugar cane fields in 2012. As mentioned, many times before, if Sugar Land was located just a few miles closer to the Gigaplex I likely would have been a season ticket holder and spent most spring and summer evenings at Constellation Field watching the Skeeters.

For the majority of my baseball loving life I have preferred attending Minor League Baseball to Major League Baseball. There is just something about a Minor League game that cannot be matched at the Major League level.

Much like a face palming mascot named Swatson, the news that the Houston Astros were going to be involved with the Sugar Land Skeeters caused my head to shake and my palm to be planted firmly on my forehead. It also reminded me of the words I memorized years ago that nothing gold can stay.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the charm of going to see the Skeeters play was the fact that tickets and concessions were reasonably priced and the action on the field involved former MLB players as well as people who were trying to continue their careers for just a little bit longer.

As an affiliated Astros club, I fear that the owner of the Astros who famously said in the middle of a pandemic that he wanted fans in the stands so he could sell them “beer and t-shirts” will likely not keep the prices as low as they had been on the current regime. Of course, Skeeters tickets will hopefully still be cheaper than Astros tickets but Goliath has definitely defeated David in this example.

Based on the amount of people who wore Astros gear to Skeeters games, I know that I am likely in the minority when it comes to being sad that the era of Skeeters as I knew them is likely coming to a close. There is likely social distanced dancing in the streets at the news that the Astros will have their AAA team a mere 27 miles or so away from Minute Maid Park.

They may even try to make the Skeeters Ballpark, Constellation Field, look like a mini Minute Maid Park. Of course, the city of Sugar Land owns Constellation Field so they would have a huge say in any major renovations to the Ballpark.

Come next season, one of my favorite Ballparks will be home of the AAA farm club of the Houston Astros. As part of the new relationship Constellation Field could start to look like a mini Minute Maid Park with Astros fans as far as the eye can see.
Photo R. Anderson

But even if major renovations are not done, make no mistake the Ballpark will become a mini Minute Maid packed to the rafters with Astros fans cheering on the top prospects.

I could even envision a scenario where they try to adjust the schedule to ensure that the Skeeters home games coincide with when the Astros are on the road to maximize the amount of dollars that can be made.

Like Mulder told Scully, I want to believe that the worst-case scenario I am picturing will not take place. I want to believe that come Opening Day 2021 COVID-19 will be on the way out and Swatson and the Skeeters will be there like a warm binkie reminding me of a time before the world went bat guano crazy.

Although I want to believe, I am also not naïve. There will be changes to the way the Skeeters operate. Some will be good; some will be bad. Time will tell whether the changes are something I can live with, or if I need to find another Ballpark to call home.

I really do not want to leave the Skeeters behind. They were my oasis and anti-Astros representing all that I remembered about baseball growing up. Unfortunately, that form of baseball is getting harder and harder to find.

Each year the game of baseball gets more commercialized and sanitized. The days of baseball being an afternoon or evening escape where on can just absorb the sights and sounds are fading. Efforts to streamline and modernize the game will continue until baseball as it once was may cease to exist. There are already examples of that, but the years to come are likely to involve some of the most radical changes to the game that have been seen in centuries.

As part of the musical chairs that is Minor League Baseball the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers appear to once again be swapping out calling the Dell Diamond home for their AAA ballplayers.
Photo R. Anderson

I am too young to be the cranky old guy chasing kids off of his lawn and rambling under his breath  about the way things used to be back in the day.

However, I am old enough to remember that baseball used to be a lot less commercialized and people did not need a million distractions in the Ballpark to keep them amused. Back then people actually went to the Ballpark to see a baseball game from their seats.

Back in high school when I was just kicking off my professional writing career, and attending Southern League games at Tinker Field, baseball was still in a nostalgic era. It was also in the middle of the golden age of the baseball movie.

As for the poem that started this all, memorizing the Robert Frost poem senior year was tied to S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. In the book, and for those with shorter attention spans that seem to be the target audience of the new era of baseball, the movie, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy Curtis to “Stay gold.”

In the same way now I am asking, pleading, begging even, for the Skeeters to stay gold and not become just another cookie cutter affiliate where fans are mere commodities to be monetized and fleeced for beer and t-shirt sales.

Sadly, my rarely wrong gut knows that nothing gold can stay. As Robert Frost wrote nearly a century ago:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Another Robert Frost poem that I often think of is The Road Not Taken. Two paths are in front of me as I decide whether to accept the road that the Skeeters appear to be heading down, or if I choose another one. But that is a poem, and a column for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to reread The Outsiders. Stay gold, Swatson.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering When the Tampa Bay Rays Joined My Triple Double Ballpark Club

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we look back to the time that I saw the Tampa Bay Rays play at Minute Maid Park for the second time which gave them entry into the Triple Double Ballpark Club. With the Rays knocking out the Houston Astros and heading to the 2020 World Series it seemed a fitting time to reminisce.

As an aside, in the years since this column first appeared in 2013, and in keeping with the World Series theme, I had the chance to see the Texas Rangers, who are playing host to the 2020 World Series match up between the Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers at their new Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, play the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, California, and again in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. With those two new additions, the Texas Rangers became the first team I have seen play in four different MLB Ballparks.

If you had asked me who I thought the first team I would see in four Ballparks would have been, it is doubtful the I would have said the Texas Rangers. Nevertheless, the Rangers are the charter member of the Cuatro Single Ballpark Club, as well as having membership in the Double Double Ballpark Club.  

In addition to seeing the Rangers on two coasts in the seven years since this column first appeared, I also added trips to Coors Field in Denver Colorado, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California bringing my total MLB Ballpark count to seven out of 30. When the world of baseball reopens, I hope to continue my quest to see all 30 MLB Ballparks. Until then, please enjoy this blast from the past on this World Series inspired Way Back Wednesday.

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Tonight, July 3, 2013, at around 7:30 or so, I will be at Minute Maid Park watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Houston Astros in the third game of a four-game series.

While the night will include post-game fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, it occurs to me that it will mark another milestone as well.

While it did not cross my mind at the time when I purchased my ticket, tonight’s game will mark the second time that I have seen the Rays play in Houston. Add that to seeing the Rays play two games at Tropicana Field and two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rays become the first member of my Triple Double Club.

There have been numerous teams that I have watched come and go through Minute Maid Park through the years.

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

But with the exception of seeing a few of them for Spring Training games, there have not been many that I have seen in multiple Ballparks so the Rays induction in the Triple Double Club is sort of a big deal.

The fact that the event will be met with post game fireworks is sort of a happy coincidence.

Okay so the Triple Double Club may be something that only matters to me but I thought that it was pretty cool.  Considering that I have only made it to four of the 30 Major League Ballparks so far, the fact that I saw the same team twice at three of those ballparks is nothing to sneeze at.

I have seen the Baltimore Orioles play at three stadiums during the regular season but only once at each ballpark so they are in the Triple Single Club. Of course, seeing them play in two different Ballparks over a four-day period gives them bonus points. And I have seen them play in three ballparks over the years during Spring Training.

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers are in the Double Double Club as I have watched them at both their home Ballpark and Minute Maid Park.

It stands to reason that they would be a strong candidate to join the Triple Double Club as all it would take was a trip to an additional ballpark when they were in town to get them there.

The Toronto Blue Jays make it into the Double Single Club as I have seen them play at both Tropicana Field and Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Astros are the team I have watched the most due to the close proximity between my house and the Minute Maid Park.  I have probably seen close to 100 games at Minute Maid Park over the past decade but ironically I have never seen them play a regular season game at any other Ballpark.

I’ve made numerous trips to Florida to see the Astros play in Spring Training games but during the regular season it seems that the desire to see them play far from home just doesn’t exist. In that way the Astros closeness is both a blessing and a curse.

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been years where I thought about making the four hour drive to see them play the Texas Rangers in Arlington but those thoughts were usually quashed quickly at the thought that I could just wait until the Rangers came to Houston.

But there are certainly worse places to watch games than Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros moving to the American League this year the odds of me completing the Single Thirty Club of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park is pretty high.

I do not have the number in front of me but it seems highly likely that I am less than five teams away from reaching that goal of seeing all 30 teams from the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Off of the top of my head I know I have yet to see the New York Yankees play there but the other teams that I am missing escape me at the moment. The Oakland Athletics seem like another team that I have yet to see play but with them sharing a division with the Astros that is an easy team to cross off of the list.

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

I suppose it is entirely possible that the Yankees and Athletics are the only missing teams but I will definitely have to look into that.

I do know that the National League, and in particular the National League Central, is well represented in my list of teams that I have seen multiple times there.

While the focus tonight will be placed firmly on enjoying the Rays and the induction of the first member of the Triple Double Club the festivities will be short lived.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my way towards the Triple Triple Club as I will be catching a matinee game between the Rays and the Astros.

I guess that means I need to plan road trips back to Arlington and St. Petersburg to complete the Triple Triple Club for the Rays.  I don’t think my arm will be twisted too hard to make that happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which Rays shirt to wear to tomorrow’s game.

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Epilogue: In the years since this column first ran, the Tampa Bay Rays joined the Triple Double Ballpark Club following trips to see them play at Minutes Maid Park and Tropicana Field. As such, the Rays are just a trip to Arlington away from making the Triple Triple Ballpark Club. Hopefully a trip to Arlington to see the Rangers and Rays play will be able to take place in 2021. I also was able to complete my journey of seeing all 30 MLB teams play at Minute Maid Park when the New York Yankees came to town.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

 

Dodgers and Rays in the World Series Proves that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Next week the Hallmark family of cable networks will start their yearly rock block of festive holiday movies. No, I am not talking about Halloween movies, harvest movies, or even Thanksgiving movies.

Instead, the channels that were founded on one sentence greeting cards, ornaments, and conservative Midwestern values, will be blasting Christmas movies day and night for the next two months.

I am certainly guilty of watching my share of Hallmark movies throughout the year. I enjoy the way they can take three original story ideas that someone had 20 years ago and turn them into 40-50 “new” movies each year. However, the past few years have shown that there comes a point where there can be too many “filmed over the course of one weekend while still writing the script” movies.

I get that people could use a little Christmas right this very minute, but starting Christmas in October seems a tad extreme even by 2020 standards.

In that spirit of fast forwarding to Christmas without acknowledging the holidays in between Columbus Day and Christmas, today’s column will have a gingerbread inspired coming down the chimney and opening presents on Christmas day, and not Christmas Eve kind of feel to it with some Reece’s Peanut Butter pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

And with a tug on the old sleigh bells, away we go.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus after being told by some of her classmates that there was not.  Open consulting her father on the matter she wrote the newspaper with the rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the paper it must be true.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus. Here rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the newspaper it must be true.
Photo R. Anderson

Ah, such a simpler time when the media was trusted and not actively called the enemy of the press by an angry man who may or may not have daddy issues.

But I digress.

Back to Virginia and her letter. In the eloquently written style of 19th Century journalistic prose, an editorial response to her letter concluded that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Words to live by in 1897, as well as in 2020.

Just like Virginia back in 1897, I was beginning to question things as the 2020 baseball season was winding down. I have made it clear since January that I am disgusted at what the Houston Astros did in 2017 when they cheated their way to a World Series title.

The fact that the Astros were one win away from their third trip to the World Series in four years a few short days ago made me question whether Baseball Claus existed and made me question my very lifelong baseball fandom going so far as to utter the words that if the Astros won the World Series baseball and I would need to break up for a t least a year since I could not be around such evil.

Granted, it was a tad over dramatic on my part and likely the result of not having any off days between games but I was certainly wondering why Baseball Claus had forsaken us.

For those unfamiliar with Baseball Claus, he is the guy who makes sure that the National Pastime remains as it should and that cheaters don’t prosper. He is also the guy who makes sure Ballparks never run out of hot dogs and nachos.

Just like every Hallmark Christmas movie worth its gingerbread features at least one scene in a Gazebo, Baseball Claus ensures teams that cheat get a lump of coal in their trash can. At least in the Houston Astros case they can use the coal to power the train in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, Baseball Claus was at his beach house in January when the penalties for the Astros were handed down.

I have no doubt that if Baseball Claus had been in his office at Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City when the cheating report came out, he totally would have insisted that players on the Astros be suspended, or maybe even banned them from baseball for their roles in the season long cheating.

So, I gave Baseball Claus a pass on that one. I mean as a fellow lover of beach houses and time away from the office, I certainly cannot fault him for taking some time to himself on the sugar sand shores. I am sure he must have dropped his phone in the water and was unreachable when the cheating scandal broke.

My belief in Baseball Claus was tested once again when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and a decision was made to roll the dice and play a 60-game regionally based schedule in order to crown a World Series champion.

This time around, I chalked up the lack of response to stop the season by Baseball Claus to him being up north visiting his brother, Hockey Claus. Surely, had Baseball Claus not been trapped north of the border he would have stepped in. Of course, Baseball Claus did make his presence felt in Canada when he told the Toronto Blue Jays they had to play their season in America to avoid bringing more COVID-19 to the land of poutine and maple syrup.

After potentially being cheated out of World Series titles in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series for the third time in four years. Unlike in previous years, Dodger Stadium will not host any of those games.
Photo R. Anderson

So, while I could excuse those two failures to intervene  by Baseball Claus when we really needed him, the run up to the World Series had me truly concerned for his health.

Was Baseball Claus in witness protection? Had he succumbed to COVID-19 like nearly 220,000 Americans? There really were more questions than answers as the aforementioned cheating Houston Astros came closer and closer to going to the World Series for the third time in four years.

I had pen in hand ready to write a letter to the editor like Virginia had so many years ago to ask whether there really was a Baseball Claus; and then Game 7 of the American League Championship Series set everything right.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros and punched their ticket to the World Series. One has to wonder whether the Houston Astros punched a trash can in the dugout in frustration after the loss.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. host the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series game in 2008. The Rays second trip to the World Series will not include a trip to the Trop thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

I know I have been hard on the Astros this year. Upon further reflection I know what they could have done to have tempered the rage I directed at them.

Had the players acted more contrite and shown genuine remorse for their actions in 2017 I would have been more likely to forgive sooner rather then later. Don’t get me wrong, I would have still been angry, but I likely would have been less angry.

Instead, the players tried to play the role of victim and seemed in many cases to be more concerned about the fallout in terms of their brand then in the fallout of breaking the hearts of little Virginias that rooted for them. I saw no genuine remorse or acknowledgment that what they did was wrong. Instead, I saw players who were merely inconvenienced that they got caught.

As stated many times, the Houston Astros were the biggest winners in 2020 since they never had to face fans in the stands during the regular season. The few interactions with fans in Spring Training games before the world shut down showed the type of visceral anger they would have encountered all season long

Of course, in talking with some Astros fans over the course of the last nine months, some of them don’t seem to really care that the Astros cheated, and just wanted the Astros to win no matter what.

The divide among baseball fans in Houston is indicative of the divide within the United States as a whole on many issues like, climate change, COVID-19, the designated hitter, fans in stands, mask wearing, blue states, red states, etc.

If the divide within the United States was a canyon, right now it would be so far across that even Evel Knievel couldn’t jump it with a souped up rocket bike.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, all of you fans of baseball played without the aid of cameras and trash cans there is indeed a Baseball Claus even in this topsy turvy upside down pandemic ravaged year of 2020.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be. Maybe Hallmark was right to start their holiday movie madness in October, since I certainly received a gift of an awesome World Series match up under my Hallowgivingmas tree.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fill out my Hallmark holiday movie bracket. I think the grand prize this year is a trip to Kansas City to see where the one sentence at a time greeting card magic happens. If I am lucky, I might even get to see a holiday movie written and filmed over the course of an afternoon. I hope it has a gazebo scene.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Rays and Astros Set to Battle for the American League Pennant

“So, Lord Helmet, at last we meet again for the first time for the last time.”

For reasons that only Mel Brooks knows, the above quote from the 1987 movie Spaceballs came to my mind when it became clear that the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros would once again cross schwartzs, I mean paths, in the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason.

Last year, the Rays lost to the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Astros went on to the World Series where they were defeated by the Washington Nationals. This year, the teams face off in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with the winner earning a pennant as well as a golden ticket to the 2020 World Series to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are set to face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner will advance to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

In any other year, I would be torn between rooting for the Rays, or rooting for the Astros. In 2020, I am rooting for the Rays all the way. Additionally, I hope that the Rays sweep the Astros en route to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.

The Rays finished with the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and have roster depth that most teams can only dream of. The Astros finished the regular season with a losing record and feelings of disdain from 29-other teams.

As noted before, the Astros truly were the luckiest team in baseball in 2020 by not having to face fans in opposing Ballparks after it was revealed in January that the Astros cheated for much of the 2017 season.

The year 2020 has taken so much and given so little. Were 2020 to give us a season ending with the Houston Astros in the World Series, after it began with the Astros getting caught cheating, that would truly be a bridge too far.

Of course, I say that in jest since comparing the horrors of the Astros hoisting a World Series trophy after getting caught cheating to the horrors of COVID-19 is truly no comparison.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays are four wins away from appearing in their second World Series Tropicana Field will not host any of the games.
Photo R. Anderson

The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly been the story of 2020, as has the inability of the federal government to devise a coordinated way to stop a disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans in a little over eight months. But there will be time enough for counting the failures of COVID-19 response when the pandemic’s done.

For now, it is time to look ahead to the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays carrying the baton for the Sunshine State while acknowledging that as much as I am thrilled at the prospect of the Rays being eight wins away from winning the World Series, I still remain convinced that the risks of playing baseball in the middle of a global health crisis well outweighed the benefits of getting to see live baseball in empty Ballparks.

Despite my reservations about having a season, MLB is a mere two weeks away from pulling off what many, including me, thought was impossible. So, whether they were just lucky, or if they were in fact good at mitigating COVID-19, I tip my Rays ball cap at MLB for doing what I certainly did not think they could do.

MLB overcame players testing positive and whole teams getting put in timeout for a week in their 60-game sprint to the postseason. They even expanded the number of postseason teams to 16 which allowed a Houston Astros team with a losing regular season record to now be eight wins away from a World Series title.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Some of the COVID-19 season changes, like expanded playoffs, and the universal designated hitter, may even become permanent fixture to baseball as MLB continues to try to tweak the game to appeal to a younger, fickler, shorter attention span, artisanal audience.

While MLB ultimately overcame their early season trials and tribulations, the National Football League (NFL) is facing the same challenges that MLB faced early in their season. Players are catching COVID-19, and games are being postponed. There is even talk that the pause button may need to be pressed on the entire NFL season to allow time to get a handle on outbreaks.

Like MLB before them, the NFL thumbed their noses at the idea of bubbles and decided to let teams travel from stadium to stadium. While MLB kept fans out of their Ballparks for the regular season, the NFL is allowing some fans to watch the games in person.

It should be noted that MLB announced plans to allow fans to watch the World Series in person in an attempt to act like there is not a global public health crisis sweeping the nation. Allowing fans in the stands offers the same containment efficiency that one might have when trying to comb the desert, or rake a national forest.

If sports must be played, there is no reason why they cannot be played in empty Ballparks and stadiums. Even if years without a global pandemic attendance at sporting events was already declining as more and more people chose rooting at home to battling traffic and crowds just to have the in-person experience at the game.

Sports will certainly be changed from this experience in the coming years. What the new experience looks like remains to be seen. For now, there is baseball to watch as the 2020 MLB season draws near the end and the Tampa Bay Rays strive to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in bringing a 2020 title to the Tampa Bay region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to decide which order I want to wear my Rays shirts in next week. Rays Up!

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989).  By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB.  Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering Milo Hamilton Five Years After His Death

Thursday, September 17th marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton, the long-time radio announcer for the Houston Astros.

While I no longer support the Houston Astros, I have fond memories of the years I spent listening to Milo Hamilton back when I did root root root for the Astros. Whether it was listening to games from home, or listening to the last innings of a game while driving home from the Ballpark, Milo Hamilton was as much a part of my Houston Astros traditions, as buying cotton candy from my favorite Ballpark vendor.

It is fair to say that I am not the only one who felt that the world of baseball grew a little dimmer with the passing of Milo Hamilton. His calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a nearly six-decade career.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who finished his career with 67 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcast work in 2012, Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of 2015.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century, and 12 years of the 21st Century, I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston, and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting. Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great baseball broadcasters of the Golden Age, until listening to Milo, I never had the opportunity to hear one of them live.

Milo Hamilton was the first of the old-school broadcasters I heard call a game live, but he was not the only one. I had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games before he retired. During a trip to Dodgers stadium in Vin Scully’s final year before he retired I even caught a glimpse of him in the press box. There will likely never be a pair of announcers like Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully again.

With his Blue Star light shining brightly from the press box whenever a player did something spectacular, Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully. Like Scully, Milo was an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans.

Although Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

The call by Milo Hamilton of Hank Aaron’s home run goes as such, “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

As noted before, that record tying night by Barry Bonds also marked my first trip to see an Astros game in person. Although the night later became tainted by the drama surrounding Bonds’ alleged steroid use, it was definitely a fun way to visit a new Ballpark.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton include calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the first trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005. When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, I thought of how much Milo Hamilton would have loved to have experienced that.

Later, when the Astros were busted for cheating during the 2017 season, I once again thought of Milo Hamilton and wondered how he would have addressed both the cheating, and the upside down 2020 MLB season.

With so many changes to how the game is being played in 2020, it would be interesting to have had the opportunity to hear Milo Hamilton’s take on things like fan free Ballparks, the universal DH, playoffs in a bubble, and pretty much everything else that has made 2020 a season like no other.

While Milo Hamilton was not around to see the Astros defeat Vin Scully’s Dodgers in 2017, one has to wonder whether he had a view with his trusty blue star from a heavenly sky box.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on. As such, it is important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Old baseball announcers are a lot like World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the ways that they made our lives better through hard work and sacrifice.

If only that spirit of sacrifice and determination was more wide spread today. If it were, we would likely have a better handle on COVID-19 and all of the other issues that are plaguing us in 2020. We might even be worthy of a blue star shining brightly from a press box if we had had a clear national strategy, or coordinated response, to a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans with no sign of stopping.

Earlier this year, I said that COVID-19 was spreading coast to coast like a wildfire. Now, we have real wildfires plaguing the western United States, hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as COVID-19 to form a terrible triple play of death and destruction.

The year 2020 has definitely been a handful to deal with, but reflecting on the fond memories of listening to Milo Hamilton provides some brief distraction from our infected, flammable dumpster fire of a year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like rereading Milo Hamilton’s autobiography and remembering a simpler time when the Houston Astros weren’t considered cheaters, and food poisoning was the only thing I had to worry about catching when eating inside a restaurant.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Tatis, Jr. Slammed for Breaking an Unwritten Rule by Hitting a Grand Slam During a Blowout

A few weeks back, one of the unwritten rules of baseball came into play when Fernando Tatis Jr. ignored a take sign and converted a 3-0 pitch in the eighth inning into his first career grand slam with his San Diego Padres up 10-3 over the Texas Rangers.

Instead of celebrating Tatis hitting the first grand slam of his career, Padres manager Jayce Tingler, issued an apology to the Rangers for Tatis swinging on a take sign. The grand slam also resulted in condemnation from the Texas Rangers.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward, as quoted in a USA Today article, stated that, “There’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game. I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis. So just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”

The Rangers showed just how much they didn’t like the grand slam during the next at bat when Rangers relief pitcher Ian Gibaut intentionally threw behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules. For his actions of perceived retaliation, Gibaut was suspended three games and Woodward was suspended for one game..

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”

The Texas Rangers responded to an unwritten rule being broken by intentionally throwing behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Photo R. Anderson

For Tatis’ part, he noted that, “I’ve been in this game since I was a kid. I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”

And therein lies the rub, an unwritten rule is only good if those asked to live by it are aware of it. At the heart of the condemnation of Tatis for hitting the grand slam is the notion of not running up the score on an opponent when the outcome of a game is well in hand.

This is where the debate really come in. Even without unwritten rules explicitly stated, athletes are often programmed to try not to run up scores against opponents. The reasoning being similar to the Golden Rule, where they are doing unto others as they would hope others do unto them.

After all, on any given day depending on which way the ball bounces a team can be on either side of a lopsided game. But, this “golden rule” of athletics goes against the try your best to win philosophy that is instilled in athletes from an early age.

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point.
Photo R. Anderson

Is showing mercy during an athletic competition mercy, or is it patronizing and outside the realm of sportsmanship and fair play? That question is at the heart of many debates related to mercy rules in many youth sports leagues.

Back when I covered high school sports as a reporter, I loved the mercy rule because, lopsided games are no fun to write about, and the earlier a game finished, the quicker I could rush back to the newsroom to write my story. Baseball games would be called if a team was up by 10 or more runs at the end of the fifth inning based on the assumption that the losing team would not be able to score 10 or more runs in two innings.

In other cases, where a game clock is involved, a running clock is utilized in an effort to end the game as quickly as possible to shorten the time a team has to run up the score against an over matched opponent.

Despite the selfish benefit I received at the time in terms of having more time to write my articles, in my mind I was the only one receiving mercy from a mercy rule. Despite gaining the benefit of more time to write before deadline, I always felt bad for the teams that were getting trounced.

Plus, it was newspaper policy to state that the game ended early due to a mercy rule which further showed how off a particular team was. Calling attention to the mercy rule added another degree of shame to their bad night.

One season while covering high school soccer, one of the teams I covered was so over matched that 90 percent of their games were called by the mercy rule before halftime. Late in the season when they actually got to play a full game it was like a victory for them.

While that particular high school had a football and basketball team that routinely won state championships, soccer was an afterthought.

Of course, this self-policing of trying to show sportsmanship by not running up a score can lead to cases of football players falling down at the 1-yard line to not score, versus running into the wide open endzone as their normal instincts would tell them to do.

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”
Photo R. Anderson

While well intentioned, and certainly a sports writer’s best friend in terms of making it an early night, it can be argued that mercy rules tarnish the spirit of sportsmanship and take away an opportunity for teams to rally and unite through shared adversity.

It also can lead to a patronizing effect where the team on the winning side of the equation is acting superior or starts to consider the other team has something to pity or despise.  Another downside of mercy rules is that the team on the winning side can be shamed for being that much better than their opponent.

The issue of showing mercy in lopsided games is certainly tricky. In my opinion, games should be played in their entirety regardless of the score. Players should also try their best on every play. Asking a player to go against that instinct is asking them to be less than who they are and tarnishes the leave it all out on the field approach of competitive sport.

Yes, lopsided games are painful to watch, and even more painful to write about, but if a team can take their foot off of the accelerator in a lopsided game, what is to prevent them from doing so in other instances? Players should use lopsided games to try new things that can help them in future games versus heading to the locker room early.

Players owe it to themselves, and everyone else, to play their best on every play regardless of what the scoreboard says. Sportsmanship is shown through being gracious in both victory and defeat. Athletes need to go all out on every play knowing that some days they will be on the winning side, and some days they might suffer a terrible lopsided loss.

Those traits are learned in youth sports and carried throughout a person’s life. As such, youth sports need to go the distance and fight through adversity both on the field and off.

While well intended, mercy rules, and the other unwritten rules for lopsided games, have no place in athletics, even if that means that reporters have to work a little later into the night.

In the example of that Padres game against the Rangers, it was the job of the Texas pitcher to keep the ball out of the reach of Tatis’ bat to prevent the grand slam. It was not Tatis’ job to lay off of the pitch and take a walk, or strike out.

Let the players play, and keep the unwritten rules of the game to a minimum when it comes to asking players to forego their competitive instincts at the plate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some unwritten rules to jot down.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson